Anyone in Virginia with their eyes open in 2017 saw signs of significant, engaged, passionate progressive grassroots organizing throughout the Commonwealth. It is hard to believe that the Democratic Party would have come so close to flipping the House without these impassioned individuals and groups, many of whom worked ceaselessly for campaigns which the pros had written off … for candidates who are now members of the House of Delegates.
The ‘grassroots’ organizations came in many flavors, had a variety of foci, with their own priorities, and yet had a strong degree of interconnection, interaction, and mutual support that set the stage for even stronger Virginia progressive grassroots engagement in the years ahead.
The latest sign of this — of the thoughtful nature of the coordination — is the release of Lessons Learned from the 2017 Virginia Elections: How the Grassroots Helped Flip VA Blue.
This report, with input and work by 40 grassroots groups who have coordinating for the past year, has seven key points (with supporting discussion in each section):
- Understand campaign realities and constraints.
- Any — and every -- district is worth fighting for.
- When trying to support campaigns:
- Listen to what the campaign needs ...
- Where needs match your organization’s capabilities, step up to fill the void.
- Top two activities
- Be smart in engaging with campaigns
- Campaign managers and staff are BUSY.
- Don’t operate in a vacuum, recognize the ecosystem
- Develop coalitions among grassroots organizations.
- Volunteer engagement is critical.
As explained at Blue Virginia
To put these recommendations in context, the document looks at the actions of the grassroots through five lenses, each presented as a separate section.
The first lens focuses on how campaigns actually work and what groups need to know.
The next section runs through strategies for helping campaigns–from being positive and responsive, to being organized and reliable. Then the section gives a grassroots’ take on tactics. “Adopt-a-Candidate” leads off this section. Early on, groups adopted candidates. These full-service partnerships were crucial for many candidates to make it through the low financial and morale days of August to the all-hands-on-deck weeks leading up to the election. Other approaches covered in this section include canvassing, phone banking, and fundraising. As well as the newer tactics of texting, social media videos, and everyone’s favorite postcard writing.
The section also addresses how the grassroots volunteers, many highly skilled professionals, were able to assist campaigns way beyond the traditional role of volunteers. For example, volunteers conducted extensive and comprehensive research as well as provided technology support.
There’s an entire section devoted to the needs of deep red and rural campaigns from identifying challenges progressive candidates face in these districts as well as the unique qualities of running a red or rural campaign.
The final section addresses the groups themselves, identifying what’s necessary to keep volunteers interested, engaged, and active for the long haul.
And, again, Virginia's GOP (and recalcitrant Democrats) are on notice: this wasn't a one-off, just because of Trump wave. The progressive grassroots have organized in Virginia and are working for the long-haul.
Perhaps the biggest lesson to be learned from the grassroots in Virginia is that they came together as a coalition. People from every corner of the state worked together constructively and productively to get progressive candidates elected. And this wasn’t a one-off occurrence. These same grassroots groups are deeply involved in the current legislative session in Richmond and are gearing up for the 2018 midterms.
Seriously, the 24-page lessons report is worth your time if you have any interest in grassroots organizing for political campaigns. Maybe every syllable is rote for you but, well, not for most — these lessons can transfer to campaigns and communities across the county. Remember, Virginia has some of the most progressive, bluest communities in the country along with communities where Trump signs were so prevalent that they (once) seem(ed) to be required in the building code.
Yes, this document is full of ideas and suggestions through short commentary, bulleted lists of action items, and resource links. But it’s really a post mortem by the one group of people not surprised by Virginia’s big win. And like the coalition that came together to share ideas, this post mortem is all about paying it forward.
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